CHEROKEE – Willis Tullos just wants to know why.
One of Western North Carolina’s all-time winningest basketball coaches has been fired. And his dismissal comes on the tail end of a 25-4 season in which the Cherokee boys set a NCHSAA record for single-season 3-pointers (330).
Tullos said Wednesday that he has not been given any explanation from Cherokee Central Schools since receiving a letter last Thursday that stated his contract would not be renewed. Tullos’ wife, Tanya, will also not be returning to the high school as an academic counselor.
Tullos, 71, had been Cherokee’s coach since 2012 and was previously a coach and teacher at the Smoky Mountain Conference school from 1989 to 1993.
“I was totally blindsided by this,” Tullos said.
“We weren’t given a reason, and I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about it. There’s got to be more to it (than wins and losses). We’ve gotten better every single year I’ve been here. We won 25 games and set a state record for 3’s as a sectional champion this year. The year before that, we won 24 games and were a sectional runner-up. I don’t know what more they want.”
Phone and e-mail requests for comment were not returned Wednesday by Cherokee Central Schools Superintendent Scott Penland or Cherokee Principal Debora Foerst.
Tullos won his 600th career game with the Braves in January.
Cherokee went on to share the SMC regular-season championship, and then win the SMC tournament and a sectional title. The Braves lost in the fourth round of the NCHSAA 1-A playoffs to Lincoln Charter, 101-88. Senior guard Jason McMillan was named to the Citizen-Times All-WNC team and signed with Western Carolina University.
Cherokee’s state record for 3-pointers may not be touched for some time. The previous mark was 283 (East Cartaret in 2014).
Prior to his firing, Tullos said he had an agreement with Cherokee school officials that he would coach two more years and then retire. Tullos had been a part of summer workouts with the team.
Tullos said it’s too soon to say whether he will coach again. He had a heart attack in 2014 and proudly points out that it only kept him out of work for about a month.
“This year was fine. I could do anything I wanted. But the (2014-15 season) was extremely difficult,” Tullos said.
“Bless my wife’s heart, I know she only got fired because of me. I’ve got to take care of her and the rest of my family. I’m old enough where they don’t have to worry about me. We’ve got some really good sophomores in this program and a lot of them had asked if I would coach them. I am sorry I’m not going to be able to do that.”